I woke, disoriented, to the insistent chirruping of the bedside phone – Aisha was waiting down in the hotel’s reception. I told her I’d be ten minutes, splashed water over myself and shaved, a puffy-eyed thirty-something gawping back at me in the mirror. The misty apparition nicked me in his haste. By the time I was done, three or four dots of toilet paper decorated my face.
Olives, Page 13
The Great Author prepares for The Reading by getting rid of the five o'clock shadow and brilliantly cutting himself in the process. Grappling for the styptic pencil, I remembered the passage in Olives where Paul cuts himself before going to meet Aisha in the hotel lobby.
Don't get me wrong, I love doing readings. But you always feel you could have done it better, could do it better next time - get the pace right, interest people in the book. I rummaged through the jostling Sharjah traffic thinking over the scene I'd picked (after much deliberation), where Paul's girlfriend Anne comes to Amman to visit him, a visit that goes horribly wrong as Paul and Anne discover they've grown apart and Paul, in particular, has changed.
TwingeSHJ is being held at the Al Maraya Art Centre at Sharjah's Al Qasba leisure area. The week-long festival of arts and culture will feature a total of 50 artists, performers, poets and writers. It got off to a fine start last night with a recital by poet Abdulla Kassim, in Arabic. He was followed by Emirati writer Noura Noman, who read from her debut novel, a YA sci-fi adventure. Noura wrote the book in Arabic and then, amazingly, did it again in English, translating the work herself. It's a rare thing to find science fiction in Arabic, let alone created as a native language work and Noura, who had been nervous all week about giving a reading, breezed through it with panache. She'd even brought copies of the passage in English for any English speakers in the audience!
I wish I'd thought of that, because by now I had realised the vast majority of the fifty-odd people in the audience were Emirati. The reading I'd picked just felt, well, wrong. It was too European, the conflict between Paul and Anne, too centred on a type of relationship that would be alien to the audience. I grabbed a copy of Olives and started flicking through the book, trying to find a passage that would have more resonance for a predominantly female Emirati audience. And there, I had it. The passage where Paul talks to Aisha's grandmother Mariam on her little farm on the West Bank, the land split by the Israeli 'security fence', the 450-odd mile long mix of wall and chain-link fence that carves its way greedily around the West Bank, taking detours to leave the 1967 border and slice rich land or water resources out of the Palestinian Territories. Mariam, who only appears in a couple of scenes in Olives, still resonates as a character - a strong, matriarchal woman who has kept going despite the tragedy and loss around her.
The substitution left me reading a passage for the first time and squinting at the small print in poor light but it was undoubtedly the right decision. A lively Q&A followed, kicked off by the Tweeter At The Back, Monsignor Rupert Bumfrey, and then, seemingly in a flash, the first night of TwingeSHJ was over and I was walking out into a great soupy cloud of fine atmospheric dust, the harbinger of strong winds and storms predicted for the UAE today.
Next stop: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature...